The journal 'Fire Ecology' reprinted a classic article by Herbert Wright and Miron Heinselman, first published in 1973, that introduced a special issue of Quaternary Research. It served as the introduction to a series of symposium papers defining the role of fire in the conifer forests of northern and western North America. The paper highlighted ecological principles associated with the role of fire: fire influences the physical-chemical environment; fire controls plant species and communities; fire regulates dry-matter production and accumulation; fire determines wildlife habitat patterns and populations; fire influences insects, parasites, fungi, etc.; fire controls major ecosystem processes and characteristics. An introduction to the article is provided by Martin Alexander.